The State of Israel is central to our existence. It is like the skeletal form of our body – it holds us upright.
This week, Israelis are celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut – Independence day. Chief Rabbi of England Ephraim Mirvis explains the deeper meaning of the word Atzmaut, which is indeed a somewhat odd way of conveying independence. This is because the word Atzmaut comes from the word etzem, which means ‘bone.’
What is the connection between a bone and independence?
It is noted that the first time that the word Etzem is mentioned in the Torah is in the account of the creation of Adam and Eve. We are told that Eve was created from Etzem Mei’Atzamai – one of Adam’s bones. God took a bone from Adam and with it he formed Eve, who became a separate person, an independent individual. Hence, we see the connection between Etzem and Atzmaut, a ‘bone’ and ‘independence’.
Rabbi Mirvis goes even further by invoking Ezekiel and the prophecy of the dry bones. As the prophecy goes, dry bones came up from the ground and sprout flesh, which led to complete resurrection of the bodies. The bodies were then clothed, awakened, and marched to the Land of Israel. It is the prophecy of the ingathering of the exiles, a journey from Atzamot (bones) to Atzmaut (independence). From the ashes of the Holocaust to celebrations of independence.
Indeed, isn’t that exactly the story of the last century? The most horrific images of the Holocaust are those photos of hundreds, if not thousands, of bones of our people, who were murdered so brutally. And yet, within just a few years, we saw a miraculous ingathering of Jewish exiles from all around the world, which led to the Declaration of Independence in 1948.
Finally, Rabbi Mirvis invokes Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, where the Torah identifies it with Be’etzem Hayom Hazeh, translated as “in the midst of the day.” But as you may know, since reading this article, a more literal translation would be “in the bone of that day.” And from here the Talmud develops the concept of Itzumo (that word again!) Shel Yom, “the essence of the day.”
Israel is now a proud, independent country amongst the nations of the world. Just like the skeletal form of a human being, made up of bones, is the central feature of our bodies, that is exactly what the State of Israel is for us today. Yom Ha’atzmaut is like a Yom Kippur. As Yom Kippur is the serious day of atonement, so too we must take our national rebirth with the same level of seriousness.
The State of Israel is central to our existence. It is like the skeletal form of our body – it holds us upright. Therefore, as we approach Yom Ha’atzmaut, we must celebrate the revived dry bones of the nation, just like Eve became a person from a bone, and just like the dry bones of Ezekiel were revived. Let us appreciate the modern-day miracle of the State and celebrate appropriately.